“Confessions of a School Reformer” (Part 4)

This series of posts is called “Confessions of a School Reformer,” a book I am now writing. Parts 1, 2, and 3 describe my entry into classroom teaching beginning in 1955.

The Cardozo Project in Urban Teaching (1963-1967)

The pilot project, initially funded for one year, was a teacher-driven, school-based, neighborhood-oriented solution to the problem of low-performing students. It was an attempted reform of schools by creating a different model of preparing sharp, skilled teachers on-site and involved in the local community to turn around low-performing segregated schools. This school-based reform model rejected the traditional university-based teacher education programs wholly separated from impoverished neighborhoods that had failed for decades.[i]

Master teachers in academic subjects trained returned Peace Corps volunteers to teach while drawing from neighborhood resources. Once trained, the reform theory went, these ex-Peace Corps volunteers would become crackerjack teachers who could hook listless students through creative lessons drawing from their knowledge of ghetto neighborhoods and personal relationships with students and their families. As a result, more Cardozo students would go on to college, fewer would drop out. That was the reform model.

As luck would have it, the Project got funded each year in last-minute negotiations between federal and district agencies. I continued to teach at Cardozo High School, eventually directing the program until 1967. I recruited Cardozo teachers to be master teachers—we called them “affiliates”–to train interns.

By 1965-1966, applicants included Peace Corps returnees, civil rights activists who had worked in the South, and veterans of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) who had worked on community projects in fighting poverty.  It was a feisty mix of teachers and community activists who were active in D.C. civil rights protests and the growing anti-Vietnam War.

In early 1965, the project sponsored a conference for D.C. teachers on improving instruction and connections between schooling and civil rights. The first of its kind, the conference was held on Howard University’s campus and attracted nearly 100 D.C. teachers and activists. For the keynote address, I got Staughton Lynd, a Spelman College professor who had directed the Freedom Summer (1964) where more than 40 schools were set up in Black communities. Workshops on teaching Basic Track students (the lowest academic track in the D.C. schools at the time), links between poverty and schooling, teaching social studies during civil rights protests, and developing curriculum materials to use in lessons.

That was a high for me to bring together District teachers (including current and former Project teachers) for a conference on curriculum and instruction tailored to D.C. students at a time when civil right activists pressed for multi-ethnic materials and murmurings of Black Power began to emerge.  My civil rights involvement had moved from a focus on classroom teaching to the conditions of D.C. schools and how to improve them.

If the conference was a high, the low I experienced was the continual coping with uncertain funding each year. Tortuous conversations with federal and D.C. agencies opened my eyes to how politically and bureaucratically thorny it is to engage students and involve parents and residents while negotiating with top-level local and federal administrators. The complex network of relationships inside and outside of the district and the intersection between school, students, community, and organizational bureaucracies became hurdles to leap in order to get teachers to spend afternoons and evenings working with families in federally funded neighborhood centers near Cardozo.

It took four long years for me and other advocates to convince the D.C. superintendent and school board that recruiting and training Peace Corps returnees benefited the district for not only for contributions to teaching and student learning but also because the program lessened the annual scramble to staff all of its classrooms. The superintendent finally agreed to take over the program in 1967 re-naming it the Urban Teacher Corps and expanding it from recruiting and training 50 new teachers a year to over a hundred annually.[ii]

After this exhilarating but exhausting experience at Cardozo, I saw my job of getting the teacher education program incorporated into the regular D.C. school budget as being done. I returned to teaching U.S. history at Roosevelt High School, another D.C. high school, further north on 13th St.

[i]In 1966, the U.S. Congress had authorized the National Teachers Corps, based on the model we created at Cardozo High School. I served on the Advisory Board for the National Teacher Corps.  In 1971, after four years of recruiting and training teachers in the Urban Teacher Corps, a new Washington, D.C. superintendent abolished the program. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan ended federal funding for the Teacher Corps.

[ii] Maxine Daly,”The Teacher as Innovator: A Report on Urban Teacher Corps,” Journal of Negro Education, 1975, 44(3), pp. 385-390.


Filed under how teachers teach, Reforming schools, school reform policies

4 responses to ““Confessions of a School Reformer” (Part 4)

  1. “President Ronald Reagan ended federal funding for the Teacher Corps.” St. Ronald has destroyed belief in our government’s ability to help its citizens. Trump is following in his steps to destroy belief in government…and has made many citizens not believe in factual journalism.
    There is a dire shortage of teachers and the Teacher Corps should have been continued.
    I’m a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who worked in Borneo from 1967-68 as a teacher. I’m certified and continued teaching in Illinois and overseas in both Bolivia and Malaysia.

    All Peace Corps volunteers have been called home. Hope the program can continue. It has done a lot of good.

  2. Professor Cuban,
    Hello there! I am a doctoral student at the University of Michigan working with Don Peurach. In one of my courses (with Barry Fishman), I am writing about the Elementary Science Study and and keep bumping into a citation for “Sherburne, Mary. The Cardozo Model School District: A Peach Tree Grows on T Street. Newton: Education Development Center 1967” but have been unable to find either a digital or print copy anywhere. Do you have any ideas where I might look? At present, it’s more a matter of curiosity than need. I attended Hardy Middle and then graduated from Wilson High Schools so am always excited to read about work in and history of my home district. I’m delighted to have stumbled across your blog and will be subscribing after sending this. I very much enjoy reading your work.

    • larrycuban

      Mary Sherburne came to D.C. from Newton in the mid-to-late 1960s to lead what was then called the Innovation Team of 20 D.C. experienced educators in the Model School Division (a group of schools allowed to experiment with school organization, curriculum, and instruction). I do not have the particular publication you cite. Only suggestion I have is to try the D.C. library catalog and the one at Howard University.

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